We See Thee Rise

The True North proves to be noth­ing if not re­silient as the COVID-19 pan­demic makes it a time to re­mem­ber – and doc­u­ment

ZOOMER Magazine - - PORTRAIT SERIES - By Leanne De­lap Photograph­y by Ge­orge Pi­mentel

gEORGEPIME­NTEL is a guy used to work­ing in a tux. As Canada’s top celebrity photograph­er, he and his cam­era have clocked ev­ery ma­jor red car­pet from TIFF to Cannes to the Met Gala and the full Hol­ly­wood and Cana­dian awards cir­cuit. Known for his Cana­dian man­ner – he asks be­fore he shoots, thus en­dear­ing him to pa­parazzo-fa­tigued stars – Pi­men­tal has cap­tured iconic im­ages of A-lis­ters from Brad Pitt to Ge­orge Clooney, J.Lo to Harry and Meghan. His mag­i­cally timed shot of Wil­liam and Kate’s bal­cony kiss – he pho­tographed their 2011 royal wed­ding on as­sign­ment for Maclean’s – ran around the world. At home in Toronto, One-Shot-Ge­orge has for decades doc­u­mented the evolv­ing fash­ion and so­cial scene.

By con­trast, his pan­demic gig – doc­u­ment­ing change in Canada as we adapt to life in its var­i­ous stages – is a shirt­sleeves-rolled-up re­turn to his pho­to­jour­nal­is­tic roots, as well as a trib­ute to his fam­ily roots. Pi­mentel is a third-gen­er­a­tion photograph­er: his fa­ther had a por­trait stu­dio ded­i­cated to mark­ing high­lights of Toronto’s Por­tuguese com­mu­nity – wed­dings, com­mu­nions, grad­u­a­tions, fes­ti­vals – where young Ge­orge ap­pren­ticed from an early age. His grand­fa­ther sim­i­larly recorded life in the Azorean vil­lage of his an­ces­tors.

Pi­mentel had been deep in an early-stage lock­down project of or­ga­niz­ing those multi­gen­er­a­tional pho­tos and was in a re­flec­tive mood. “The el­e­gance of the old pho­tos spurred me to be­gin re­search­ing pho­tos of the Span­ish flu,” he says. “I wanted to see what hap­pened: a photo is the ev­i­dence; to me, it is the truth.”

He be­gan by doc­u­ment­ing his kids lounging around, then ex­panded to his neigh­bours’ kids, play­ing phys­i­cally dis­tanced on the drive­way. “But the mo­ment of truth was when I went to visit my fa­ther for the first time af­ter this all started.” The day was April 20. “I stayed in the car, he came up to the win­dow with a mask on. I didn’t open it but in­stead put my hand on the win­dow. He touched his hand to mine on the other side of the glass. It was such a spon­ta­neous, nat­u­ral ex­pres­sion.” He cap­tured the mo­ment and posted it on In­sta­gram. His phone ex­ploded.

One of the peo­ple whose eye he caught was Sara An­gel, founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Art Canada In­sti­tute and an ad­vi­sory board mem­ber for Por­trait Gallery of Canada. She jumped into ac­tion, and they set about put­ting to­gether a team and a call-out for pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion. The re­sult? The Canada COVID Por­trait project, in­tended to doc­u­ment how the virus has trans­formed all as­pects of our lives. Its in­ten­tion is to pre­serve a record for the archives. To date, some 169 am­a­teur and pro pho­tog­ra­phers from ev­ery prov­ince and ter­ri­tory have shared some 2,500 im­ages un­der the hash­tag #canada­covid­por­trait. A cu­rated se­lec­tion ap­pears on the In­sta­gram site of the same name. On the hori­zon: a web­site and an ex­hibit of the cu­rated selections in Ottawa.

But it was the process it­self that was rev­e­la­tory to the 53-year-old Pi­mentel: “I felt like I was 18 again. Ev­ery day I had a pur­pose, I’d grab my cam­era, and one lens and go out and find peo­ple to tell their sto­ries. Artis­tic free­dom at its best.” There was a mo­ment when he re­al­ized he was sup­posed to be in Cannes. “In­stead, I’m at a home­less shelter or a food bank. I’ve never felt so alive or re­ju­ve­nated.”

From the lonely wo­man pray­ing on the steps of the church she wasn’t al­lowed to en­ter, we moved into a pe­riod where the streets and parks filled with young peo­ple. “From one day to the next, Trin­ity Bell­woods went from Coachella to a se­ries of cir­cles,” he says. “The point for me is in show­ing the adap­ta­tions we make as we go along through this to­gether.”

He fol­lowed am­bu­lances and firetrucks – at a safe dis­tance, of course – and sought out front-line work­ers to record their ex­hausted pos­tures. He shot bar own­ers in their empty bars, the stacked-up chairs bear­ing wit­ness to their sor­row. He went to protests for Black Lives Mat­ter and piv­oted to shoot phys­i­cally dis­tant Pride cel­e­bra­tions, grad­u­a­tions and proms. The so­ci­ety shooter had come full cir­cle, doc­u­ment­ing the same things his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther had: the rit­u­als, adapted to the times, that make us who we are.

Left: Si­mone Benoit has spent months in­doors mak­ing masks. On Canada Day, she headed to a park in Vaughan, Ont., to cel­e­brate. Above: a front-line worker at 445 Fire Sta­tion in Eto­bi­coke at the end of a long day

Clock­wise, from top left: Car­los Car­dadeiro left a bou­quet of flow­ers on the doorstep for his mother on Mother’s Day; a wo­man prays out­side Saint Fran­cis of As­sisi Ro­man Catholic Church; Toronto Rap­tors’ su­per­fan Nav Bha­tia (not pic­tured) brought food for front-line work­ers at Tril­lium Health Part­ners in Mis­sis­sauga. Op­po­site: Pi­mentel’s selfie with his dad that started it all.

Top: When COVID first hit, peo­ple were sel­dom seen on the streets. This man’s soli­tude was strik­ing on the Lakeshore. Bot­tom: Nor­mally, the Lula Lounge on Dun­das would be alive with live mu­sic, jazz and salsa danc­ing. Here, co-owner Jose Nieves in the now si­lent space amid its stacked chairs.

Top: Can­celled grad­u­a­tion events didn’t stop 17-year-old Han­nah Szczep­nowski (Bishop Allen Academy) and Ta­tiana Boutros (Eto­bi­coke Col­le­giate) from mark­ing the rite of pas­sage. Bot­tom: A gentle­man gets creative with his mask in Kens­ing­ton Mar­ket. “It’s just one of the many dif­fer­ent self-made masks you see when walk­ing around the city.”

Top: A young girl waits pa­tiently out­side her grand­mother’s con­do­minium to cel­e­brate her birth­day. Bot­tom: The can­cel­la­tion of Pride Pa­rade did not stop So­fonda Cox from tak­ing to the streets; here, out­side Union Sta­tion. Op­po­site: a protest at Dun­das Square.

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